Wednesday, January 21, 2009

What a Great Day!!!

I realized it has been nearly two weeks since I last blogged. I guess it could be because I have been under the weather a little lately. It could also be because our church is getting ready for its annual meeting. I think the real reason is that most of my spare time has been spent reading the Bible. I understand that most people might not think that unusual for a pastor - and in a sense it isn't. But this is different. I - along with many others from our church - are engaged in attempting to read through the Bible in 90 Days. That means about 12 pages per day of names like Shamgar, Othniel, Eliezer, Ophrah (no not Oprah although I am told that is actually what her parents intended to name her and simply left out a letter). Along with the strange names are the long lists of begats, the strange prohibitions of the Old Testament and the bloody sacrifices and barbaric battles. It is really eye opening and as I re-read these passages, I am aware of all sorts of details and images that I have glossed over in the past.

Have you ever noticed how God has chosen to use and to bless the most unlikely, imperfect people in accomplishing salvation's plan. That gives me great hope.

Early this week I was reminded of the plea of God's people "to have a king, just like the surrounding nations". Dissatisfied with the way God has delivered them and taken care of them from their journies in the wilderness to their conquest of Caanan, the Israelites seem to think that a human, political form of government can do a better job than God has done working through his prophet's and judges.

Some things never change do they? I find myself being caught up in the excitement, hope and optimism of a newly elected President. And in fact, I do believe that Barack Obama's election and inauguration as 44th President of the US is a milestone of epic proportions. I vascillated between tears and uncontrollable grinning then on to somber prayer for protection, wisdom and power for him. I was emotionally drained by the end of the day. I don't know how he and his wife and daughters made it through the long day of prayer services, ceremonies, parades and balls.

I know many are skeptical - and perhaps even bitter or angry. But what an incredible thing it is that an African American - the son of an African immigrant - could become President the very same week we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King's legacy of freedom, justice and racial equality. And what an incredible gift it is to live in a country where the transition of power - even after a hotly contested political campaign - can take place peacefully. In fact, signs of new unity, hope and racial equality were as evident as the many-colored faces in the throngs of peopls who were present in Washington to witness this moving, historic occasion.

Perhaps the fact that President Obama seemingly sprang so quickly from relative obscurity is a sign of God's unique appointment and role for him in our world at this time. Like Esther, perhaps God has put him in this place "for such a time as this." In re-reading the Bible, so many of those that God chose to lead the people were not the people that the pundits and experts would have picked.

Having said all that about our new president and these historic moments, I need to bring myself back down to the reality that our country and this our elected officials are just part of an earthly and temporal kingdom - a kingdom that exists only because of God's grace. God's eternal plans and kingdom far exceed and out pace even the most thrilling, hopeful time in earthly history. In the end, we need to remember that we are citizens of Christ's kingdom first and of this earthly one secondarily. Ultimately our hope has to rest in Jesus' triumph and not ina political candidate or party platform.

So, I am jazzed about our new President. I believe better things are in store. I pray that he will be used of God not just to bring help to an ailing economy, but to restore our great country to the place of honor, respect, freedom, justice and equality that it has been in the past and can continue to be. But you know what, that can only happen when we as followers of the King of King live lives that reflect the values of an eternal kingdom.

I've rambled enough. My cup is empty. It is time to have another cup of coffee and finish getting ready for my Bible Study tonight at the Mint.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The face of homelessness

Today, at our ministerial association meeting, we discussed the problem of homelessness here on the plateau. We heard some heart-wrenching stories of families living in tents up in the hills east of us. One story was of a dad - a single dad - with a five year old son who had been living up in the hills east of town until the cold temperatures and snow forced them to come seeking assistance. The short version of a long story is that caring Christians through some of our churches and through Plateau Outreach Ministry helped this man walk through the maze of red tape and beauracracy to get help and they (he and his son) are now scheduled to leave the 17 foot used trailer they have been living in and move into a transitional housing unit where they can stay for up to 2 years. During that time, the idea is that work can be found, and roots can be put down for a quality of life they have not known.

That is just one story. Behind that story are the 15 or so other people or families who have come to POM seeking help just this week. Each of them has a story as well. Each one is a person created in God's image and an object of God's love. All too often though, they are forgotten or overlooked. Often the homeless become faceless statistics...numbers in some government report.

Some homeless are dismissed because, we assume, they have made bad choices in life; or they are alcohol or drug abusers; or scam artists who just are looking to live on society's dole or off someone else's sympathies.

Many homeless (sorry I don't have statistics) are people who should be under medical or psychiatric care.

Whatever the circumstances, homeless people have faces. And they have bodies with physical needs. They have souls.

Perhaps their existence strikes us with the fear that it could just as easily be us. Many Americans are just one paycheck away from losing their homes. With a job loss, a catastrophic illness, a divorce, or some other life changing situation, it is easy to see how tenuous our security in material things really is.

I don't have an easy solution or a spiritual platitude. I just raise the issue to raise consciousness. We can tell them about Jesus. But, if they are Christians and are still hungry or homeless, have we really shown or lived out God's love?

Our church is doing a program called "The Bible in 90 Days." We are slogging through some of the Old Testament Laws in Leviticus this week and there is some hard stuff there. Part of what it means to live under God's covenant is to take care of the stranger and the alien and the poor (Exodus 22:21; Lev. 19:9,10) The same thing is echoed in the New Testament when James says "pure and undefiled religion is this - to look after widows and orphans and keep oneself from being polluted vbyt world." (James 1:27) Jesus also demonstrated that kingdom living means taking care of the widow, the orphan, the hungry, the naked, the homeless and the jailed. (Mt. 25:31 - 46)

So, how am I going to deal with this? I really don't know. I admit, I am very uncomfortable when I am approached by someone who is obviously homeless and in need. I know one thing, I can't ignore him or her. I need to look them in the face and try to see in that face the face of a person whom God loves and wants to care for. Then I can decide what might be the best way to help.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

An Old Friend

A few weeks ago, for reasons I really can't explain, I stopped in a pawn shop on the way home from Auburn. My eyes were immediately drawn to a wall behind the counter where a shiny, nickel plated with brass trim trumpet caught my eye.The unique finish and valves told me immedately that is was an early model Conn Connstellation, much like the one my parents had given me in 1965 and that I had played through high school, college, and seminary. I remember that gift as being one of the best gifts I had ever received.

I loved that horn. It helped me reach Colorado All-State Band, receive annual scholarships to Colorado State Music Camp in Fort Collins and music scholarships to the University of Colorado and Colorado State College. I played it for my audtion to the McAllister Conservatory of Music when I transferred to Wheaton College in 1969. I played it in "the Fred Davis Quintet" during the summers of my college years. I played it in churches, high school assemblies, and annually for the Memorial Day Ceremonies at Fort Logan National Cemetary in Denver. That trumpet and I were inseparable friends.

Inseparable, that is, until one sad day, as Judy and I were organizing and packing our things for a move to Renton Washington after my graduation from Seminary. We had many of our valuable things stored in our garage in the house we owned on Hudson Street. Somehow thieves had gotten into the garage and stolen several of our valuable possessions. Most valuable to me was that trumpet.

Seeing the same model (or one very close to it) in the Pawn Shop brought back a flood of memories to me. So, a few days later when Judy asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I hesitated, knowing it cost a lot of money, then bravely answered, "there is this trumpet in a pawn shop..."

A few days before Christmas, a wrapped package showed up under our tree and I knew it could only be one thing - the trumpet I had seen in the Pawn Shop. I couldn't wait to unwrap it and try it out. I am sure our neighbors loved hearing it on Christmas eve at 11:00 after I had unwrapped it. But it was just like I remembered it - smooth valve action, a dark sultry tone, and an ease in the higher register that I haven't enjoyed with the other horns I have owned since.
While we were in Chicago, during a break from Free-for-all Yahtzee, Lego Star Wars and silly movies with Davis, I took some time to go on line and read up as much as I could about these horns. Based on the serial number, the finish, and tubing, I found out that the trumpet Judy had purchased for me was a bit of a collector's item. It was built in in 1956 or 57 in Elkhardt, Indiana by the Conn company. It is a Connstellation 28A, the predecessor to the very popular, professional model 38b Connstellation. Similar horns, some in much less pristine condition than mine, were listed on Ebay and other online sites for 3 to 4 times what Judy had been able to purchase it for.

So, there is no real spiritual application to this blog today. Just a "note" of excitement, gratitude and nostalgia. I have spent about an hour this morning getting reacquainted with and playing this treasured gift. Those who know me know what a role the trumpet - and particularly jazz - has had in my life. Even though my calling to ministry has taken me in a different direction than that I had anticipated in professional music, playing has continued to be a great joy and passion in my life. Tomorrow, I will go join 5 other of my fellow jazz afficionados to rehearse for an upcoming gig. I can't wait to show off and see how my old friend will blend with the other members of By Committee.

What are your passions in life? What things from your past do you cherish? Sure, things like trumpets, or sport, books, or any other thing, cannot begin to take the place of family, friends and faith. But often they are a part of the grace God shows in our lives - gifts of grace if you will. Thus, they are things that shouldn't be locked away in a closet. God encourages us to use our passions for his glory. I hope that the new year will bring you great joy in dusting off blessings, skills, and special possessions and using them to bring joy and grace to others.